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Saudi Arabia Punishes a dissident for contracting Coronavirus

Together for Justice warned of the deterioration of the physical and psychological condition of the Saudi lawyer and prisoner of conscience, Mohamed Al-Qahtani, who was permanently prevented from communicating with the outside world following his infection with the Coronavirus inside Al-Ha’ir prison in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

According to his family, the authorities isolated him medically due to infection with the Coronavirus and refused to inform his family of his health condition or enable them to check on him.

Mohamed Al-Qahtani, human rights defender, communicated with his family for the last time on April 7, when he was being transferred for a corona test after he had a fever and body aches. The Ministry of Health informed his wife that the results of the tests were positive, and then the prison authorities told her that he was transferred to isolation unit and since then no news were received from him.

Many human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, considered the isolation of Al-Qahtani a new type of solitary confinement, denouncing the failure to establish a system that would enable prisoners to communicate with their families during a period of medical isolation.

Leen Malouf, Deputy Director of MENA at AI said, “Depriving Mohamed Al-Qahtani from contacting his family, means preventing him from communicating with the outside world at a time when communication with them is to reassure them of his health and his psyche is more important.”

Al-Qahtani is facing a serious abuse added to his series of human rights and legal violations that he has been subjected to since the beginning of his arrest in June 2012, as he was deprived of his freedom due to his peaceful activity, and since then he has been treated with cruelty.

 In March 2013, he was sentenced for ten years in retaliation for being one of the founders of HASM, a movement that was dissolved and all its members targeted by the authorities for calling for peaceful political and democratic reforms.

Al-Qahtani’s infection with the Coronavirus, not only draws attention to the violations committed against detainees, but also sheds light on the catastrophic conditions inside Saudi prisons, as all prisoners are now at risk of contracting the virus due to overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of adequate medical care in many prisons across the country.

The Saudi authorities must first reduce overcrowding inside the detention facilities, and begin to immediately release all those imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The authority should also lift the restrictions imposed on the rights of people deprived of their freedom, including visits and phone calls, as the prison authorities must provide prisoners with adequate alternatives to maintain contact with families and the outside world.

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